1. These cases are precisely similar. The Sub-Magistrate found that the Petitioner (the accused in both cases) was not guilty of the offence of theft or of dishonestly receiving stolen property (Section 379 or 411, Indian Penal Code). He found in fact that the Petitioner had purchased both the bulls for fair prices and without any reason to suppose them to be stolen property. Nevertheless he ordered the bulls to be returned to Meenammal and Pandia Muppan whom after enquiring he considered to be the owners. He was satisfied, he says, that the bulls had been stolen though he does not say whence, by whom or when.
2. The general rule in such cases is that where a person accused of theft is acquitted and claims as his own the property seized from him by the Police and alleged to have been stolen, it should be restored to him in the absence of special reasons to the contrary. This is the principle generally recognised in this Court (vide Vaiyapuri Chetty v. Sinniah Chetty : AIR1931Mad17 ). In the present case the learned Sub-Magistrate has not given any reason for departing from this principle. He appears to have thought that the decision of the question of ownership was sufficient to justify an order to return the property to the owner. This is extremely unsound as has been explained by Rankin, C.J., in Sattar Ali v. Afzal Mahomed I.L.R. (1926) Cal. 283. The Criminal Courts ought not to be used to short circuit the Civil Courts in this way. When it appears that the Petitioner bought the animals honestly, the question whether he or the former owners is, or are, now entitled to them should be left to be decided by the Civil Court. It is not a question into which the Criminal Court should enter.
3. Since it is clear that the learned Sub-Magistrate has over-looked the fundamental principle that when property is seized from a person who is afterwards acquitted of stealing it, the property should ordinarily be returned to that person, he cannot be said to have exercised his discretion in a judicial manner. I therefore set aside his order and direct that the bulls be returned to the Petitioner from whom the Police took them.